Re: Zero – 41 – The Purrfect Loser

Years ago, Garfiel attempted and failed the trial, and smashed his head against a column, causing the scar he wears to this day. He is the final obstacle to Emilia continuing her trial, and has come to the Graveyard to smash the entrance, isolating the Sanctuary forever.

Only Emilia and Subaru stand in Gar’s way, and it’s the former who makes a barrier of herself before him. She has lived in fear all her life until today, and knows the pain of being separated from a parent. All this time, Gar has maintained that he and his sister were obstacles to his mother’s happiness, which is why she abandoned them. But then the memory surfaces…of Gar finding his mother’s carriage, wrecked by a landslide.

She wasn’t even able to reach the outside world that lured her, that was to be the place where she’d find happiness, away from him. Gar has washed his hands of the outside, and will stand, as a wall in and of himself, to protect everyone else in the sanctuary who feel, like him, that things changing won’t make them happy. Nothing will ever get better, so you might as well stay frozen in place.

Having heard and been unmoved by either Emilia or Subaru, Gar transforms into Beast Mode and charges them. Subaru uses Shamac to halt time so he can stab Gar with the crystal Frederica gave him, which seems to be imbued with some of Puck’s spirit. This transforms him back into a man, but it hasn’t sapped Gar’s will to fight.

Subie stands firm and takes a vicious shot to the face, but he’s able to counterattack with a supernatural punch from the Sloth Witch Factor within his body, which he inherited from Betelgeuse and learned about from Echidna.

Gar is down, but not yet out. The knockout blow is delivered by someone who owed Gar such a blow: Subaru’s ever-dutiful earth dragon, Patrasche. Her charge finally gets the job done. Even if Gar hasn’t been proven wrong, he can no longer fight. Both he and Subie pass out in short order.

When Subie wakes up, it’s once again in Emilia’s lap. He thanks her, punches then shakes hands with Otto for his help and for being alright, and of course thanks Patrasche for her loyalty and love. Ram allows Gar to lay in her lap, but only until he wakes up and barely a second more.

Rem proceeds to give him the third degree, telling him to fight with an empty head next time and to stop yammering on in front of “the woman he loves” and accept his loss, and move forward. She then urges him to take the trial one more time, in order to confront and accept the past.

The Graveyard transports him back to that golden-lit day his mother left him and Fred in Ryuzu’s care. She kisses her infant son right on the place where he would create an ugly scar years later. Then his mother says something he didn’t remember: “I promise I’ll bring your father back.” That means not only did she not leave them to find her happiness, but she always intended to return, and with his dad.

The memory fades away until it’s just him and young Fred, who asks him straight up what he wants to do. He answers that he wants to do what he’s expected to do, by all of the people who need him. With his past confronted and resolved, he leaves the trial exchanging sharp toothy smiles with his little big sister.

Just as Emilia emerged from the graveyard a new and stronger person last week, the young man who would stop her and anyone from completing the trial emerges in much the same manner. He can’t claim he gained much that can be seen, but he did gain vital closure, and can even thank Subaru for being the one to give him the push he needed.

It’s then when Subie learns Gar is not only younger than him, but at fourteen is just an eighth grader…which actually explains a lot! With no further obstructions, Emilia can re-enter the graveyard and continue the trial with a full head of steam. Some of that steam is produced when she asks Subie if they can talk about the kiss they shared when all this is over.

Subie states that would be happy to, and is delighted by Emilia’s confidence, betting another date with her that she’ll prevail this time. When Emilia enters the inner chamber, she finds out what Subaru was doing when he abandoned her bedside that night: etching words of cheer and encouragement with Puck on the chamber walls.

Once Emilia is in the trial, she’s immediately met in the forest by Echidna, who unloads with a string of biting insults that would certainly cause distress to the Emilia of yore. But this Emilia is made of sterner stuff.

Taking a page out of Subie’s book on theatricality, she points dramatically up into the air, then directly at the Witch of Greed,  and introduces herself as Emilia, the Frozen Witch, born in Elinor Forest. She won’t give in to the “malice of a fellow witch”, and further warns that she too is “quite an insufferable woman, after all!”

Accompanied by a defiant orchestral score to match the occasion, this was a pitch-perfect way to end the episode and begin the trial of Emilia’s life. While I still can’t quite rule out things going badly for her and Subaru from this point on, I also never thought we’d see Emilia and Subaru kiss, or Garfield both thanking and apologizing to Subaru. But we’re in uncharted Re:Zero territory, and we have a brand-spankin’ new old president, so I’m in a hopeful mood!

Deca-Dence – 05 – What the World Needs Now are Bugs Sweet Bugs

Squad 6 enters the Gadoll nest to find a gruesome mess of dead Gears floating in Gadoll alpha’s zone. Despite none of them being able to score a hit on the beast, an angry Natsume charges right in—and almost gets herself killed. She’s saved by her CO Mindy, who declares she was sick of seeing kids charge in and get killed.

Mindy ends up dying from her wounds seriously wounded and out of action, but Natsume charges right back in, and even manages to score a hit with some acrobatic harpoon action. Once again, she’s nearly killed but for plot armor a second savior in Kaburagi, who saw her boarding the transports on TV and rushed to her side, determined not to let her die.

That determination unlocks Kabu’s limiter, and he makes quick work of Gadoll alpha, despite the fact he and his veteran ranker comrades aren’t supposed to be in the battle until alpha has killed most if not all of the Tankers and Gears. He messes up the storyline, and then something even Commander Minato didn’t forsee: the giant Gadoll prototype Stargate emerges from its slumber.

Stargate is a genuinely creepy giant monster, with visual elements that call to mind the giant warriors in Nausicaa and the queen in Alien. It’s also as of yet incomplete, so despite its terrifying oxyone laser, Kabu is able to knock it off balance by attacking one of its spindly legs, which buys Minato time to maneuver Deca-Dence into position to punch it into oblivion. It’s all A+ large-scale spectacle, with hand-drawn and CGI elements seamlessly integrated.

Even when Natsume and the Tankers think the day has been won and the Gadoll are done, the very sky itself transforms from sunset to midday, and reveals at least three more gargantuan Gadoll looming on the horizon, and clouds of lesser Gadoll buzzing in their enormous eyes. A shocked look of defeat washes over Natsume as she remembers Kabu’s words about the war never ending.

Before she can ask if he knew all this would happen, he’s vanished—and reporting to Hugin, making his first appearance in the game world. When Kabu refuses to repeat that the world must be rid of all bugs—and instead says the world needs bugs—Hugin zaps him. Whatever punishment for Kabu follows, it looks like Natsume will be on her own for what’s to come.

Deca-Dence – 02 – A Bug’s Second Life

Well now…that was weird. Deca-Dence completely changes gears in its second episode, all but putting Natsume’s story on hold to answer some of the most pressing questions of the opening outing. Why is Kaburagi so good at fighting? He was once a high-ranking Gear. Why is he collecting “chips” from random humans in the shadows? It’s the true nature of the new job given to him after falling from the system’s good graces.

What was the deal with that crazy Yellow Submarine-like city at the end of the last episode? Well, uh…that’s actually Kaburagi’s reality. His human form is only an avatar, and Deca-Dence is a huge and elaborate entertainment facility run by the all-powerful Solid Quake Corporation.

The Gears are all like him: robot-like beings liking in the corporations “Chimney Town” when not playing Deca-Dence. Only the Tankers are all real human beings—the last of their species.

That’s…a lot, but what’s so incredible is how organically all this new information fits into what we’ve seen thus far, and how everything that seemed a little “off” about last week is logically explained here. And in an extended flashback to seven years ago, we see Kaburagi and his elite ranker team. They all sport odd skin and hair color because they’re not really human, just avatars.

Kaburagi is in the Top-5 Gears in all of Deca-Dence, but he can feel he’s reached his peak and bracing for the down-slope. On the other hand, his young and eager comrade Mikey is slowly rising in the ranks, with much the same stats as Kaburagi in his prime. When not playing, Kaburagi is ingesting Oxyone like all the other people in Chimney Town, or getting stimulation in the form of “beam” sessions.

While Kaburagi sees a bright future for Mikey, Mikey himself is impatient, and feels something is missing, namely the ability to release his limiter, a risky maneuver that will give him enhanced strength and speed in the game.

Now that Mikey knows what it’s liked to be a ranker, he no longer wants to feel like he’s “replaceable” (even though he kinda unwittingly is replacing Kaburagi). After quite a bit of begging Kaburagi relents and shows Mikey how to do it.

However, Mikey gets caught as a cheater and labeled a “bug” by Hugin, the stoic, matter-of-fact system administrator. Mikey gets scrapped and the entire ranker team disbanded. While all of Kaburagi’s other teammates were sent into confinement for refusing their next assignment, Kaburagi decides not to go against the system today so he can live to possibly fight it another day.

The nature of Kaburagi’s new job? He’s demoted to armor repairer with the Tankers, but that’s just his day job. By night he’ll be a “recovery agent”, collecting the chips from humans deemed by the Hugin to be “bugs” that could harm the system.

Now that (mostly) all has been explained, we return to Natsume incessantly begging Kaburagi to train her to fight. Having already lost a dad and an arm to combat, she isn’t fazed in the slightest by the gory aftermath of the Gadoll battle. No doubt Kaburagi compares her to Mikey, who also begged to be more significant and paid the price for it.

Even when Natsume halfheartedly tries to blackmail him with a photo she took with Pipe, Kaburagi won’t budge on helping her. However, one night she spots him sneaking around in the shadows and catches him removing a chip from someone. Of course, not knowing his story, as far as she knows he’s just robbing him because he’s hard up for cash.

Natsume gets Kaburagi to promise not to rob anyone else, and stop talking about it being “over” for him. Little does she know he’s telling the truth, as he’s been intentionally refraining from ingesting oxyone or rebooting, which will eventually lead to shutdown—a slow suicide, if you will.

Kaburagi always assumed that Natsume was another bug—maybe even the next on the list provided by Hugin. But when he scans her face, he finds no data among the current population of Tankers, and a deeper search reveals that she was listed as deceased way back when her dad died and she lost her arm.

That means she’s not only a bug in the system, but one that’s outside it’s control due to the lack of a chip. If the system won’t recognize her, or believes she’s of no value, then he’ll recognize her. He finally ingests the oxyone, crediting her with saving him from an early demise, agrees to train her, and shows her around the swanky Gears’ base.

The more I learn about this weird whimsical world, the more I like it, and the more invested I am in watching how Kaburagi and Natsume manage to resist a cruel system that considers her an anomaly to be eradicated. Deca-Dence has exhibited a willingness to take big bold risks in each of its first two episodes, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Deca-Dence – 01 (First Impressions) – A Study in Scale

Deca-Dance starts small and modest: a father on a mission to investigate artifacts; his young daughter Natsume tagging along out of a sense of adventure. It doesn’t end well for Natsume: she loses her dad and her right arm. Still, she survives, and dreams of fighting and making a difference.

Fast forward to when Natsume’s about to leave school and take on a job as a Tanker, supporting the Gears who fight monsters called Gadoll. They all live on Deca-Dence, a massive mobile fortress and humanity’s last bastion. Only she never hears back from The Power that doles out the jobs. She wanted to be a soldier, but it seems her missing arm disqualifies her.

Natsume is instead given a hard, dirty armor cleaning job under the supervision of a joyless man named Kaburagi. He slaps a harness on her and pushes her off a ledge onto the sheer side of Deca-Dence. Rookies typically scrub rotten Gadoll guts and blood for five years before any kind of advancement.

While it’s gross exhausting work, Natsume eventually gets the hang of it. In both the classroom exposition scene and her working montage, Deca-Dence the show exhibits a willingness to use these methods of shorthand to deliver all the information it needs to deliver. The montage works better than the student recitation of What’s Going On mostly because it’s showing, not telling, and what it shows is very cool-looking.

Natsume eventually convinces her stoic boss to throw a welcome party for her, during which she gets tipsy and takes Kaburagi to task for his fatalism. He just wants to live a relatively quiet peaceful life within the walls, and can’t see why Natsume looks at her arm stump and says to herself “More of that, please.”

The older Kaburagi has clearly been worn down by his experiences, while despite suffering quite a bit of trauma of her own Natsume remains optimistic about the prospect of defeating Gadoll and living in true peace and prosperity.

At the same time, Kaburagi has a pet harmless Gadoll whom Natsume names “Pipe”, and also a strange, unexplained side-job involving extracting “chips” from people when ordered to by a shadowy boss. We learn a lot this week, but there’s still a lot of mysteries to unravel; more on that later.

Eventually Deca-Dence comes afoul of a Gadoll attack party, led by an immense, Leviathan-like mega Gadoll that is larger than the fortress, surrounded by a bevy of bizarre candy-colored Gadoll small fry. They may look like Pokemon rejects but even the smallest of them are bigger and faster than humans. It’s a good thing then that the Gears use flight packs in order to increase their speed and mobility (similar to the flight packs in Youjo Senki, another Nut anime).

When the Gadoll are spotted Natsume and Kaburagi are still outside, and their colleague Fennel and another maintenance guy end up falling off the side of the fortress. They fall for a very long time, accentuating the sheer scale of their home as well as the battle unfolding below.

That battle actually doesn’t seem to be going so well when Kaburagi drops in with Natsume, but he grabs a flight back from one of the dead Gears and proceeds to unleash a can of whoop-ass on the lesser Gadolls, with a tethered, nauseous Natsume trailing behind him.

It’s an absolutely gonzo sequence with tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details. More importantly, it (along with his side job and pet Gadoll) drive home the fact that there’s a lot more to Kaburagi to sleepy maintenance work, and despite not having Natsume’s moxie, unlike her he’s ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

I can see why he wouldn’t want her getting involved in this bloody business, but I still hope she convinces him to train her, “just in case” she has to fight some Gadoll on her own someday.

From the small-scale battlefield we pull way, way back to the final clash between Deca-Dence and the gargantuan Gadoll boss. In a high-tech command center that belies the fortress’ chaotic, grungy exterior, General Minato has his crew go through a number of checks and elaborate technobabble that essentially transform the fortress into a giant mass driver cannon in the shape of a fist.

Once that fist is charged up, they wait until the Gadoll is as close as possible before firing, and boy howdy can you ever feel the impact of that. The physics of large scale masses coming into contact at ridiculous speeds, and their effect on the surrounding environment, is beautifully rendered down to the smallest spec of debris.

With the latest round of bad guys thoroughly defeated, it’s time to collect all the Gadoll meat, rest, heal, repair, and celebrate…until the next battle, and the next, and the next. You can feel Kaburagi’s weariness with this business, but also understand why Natksume wants to play a meaningful role.

Instead of ending conventionally with watching the humans deal with the aftermath of the battle we see that the humans had been observed by weird trippy robots in a trippy Dr. Seuss city. I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on here, but I sure as shit was enticed, as it adds an entirely new layer (and scale) of surrealism and mystery to the past, mostly straightforward proceedings.

Gargantua. Sidonia. Macross. Er…Chrome-Shelled Regios—I’ve always had a soft spot for anime about a group of humans aboard a massive self-sustaining vehicle in a desperate struggle for survival. Deca-Dence is no different. From the city-punching, overarching Gadoll struggle down to the smaller, cozier struggle of one spunky girl trying to carve her way in the world, to the strange intriguing mysteries and ambiguity over who is actually the aggressor in this war, Deca-Dence is a sure keeper in my book.


P.S. Thanks to Crow for another shout-out!